Not a Bridge too Far

Bangladesh is ahead than many other coun­tries in the re­gion in de­vel­op­ing pri­mary lit­er­acy. Re­cent ini­tia­tives could bring it much closer to achiev­ing the Millennium De­vel­op­ment Goals.

Southasia - - Child Rights - By Mo­hammed Am­mar Bin Yaser

Bangladesh faces multi-faceted com­pli­ca­tions in at­tain­ing lit­er­acy and rais­ing pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion. Like other South Asian coun­tries, poverty re­mains the pri­mary cause of many prob­lems faced by the Bangladeshi pop­u­la­tion. In 2000, one of the Millennium De­vel­op­ment Goals (MDG) for Bangladesh was to have 100% pri­mary lit­er­acy by the end of 2015.

The of­fi­cial MDG re­port valid till 2005, urged Bangladesh to fo­cus on pupils from grade one to five. How­ever, high dropout rates in pri­mary schools have been the main de­ter­rent in reach­ing the MDG goals.

Bangladesh earned world­wide ac­claim in the 1990s for rais­ing ed­u­ca­tion aware­ness and en­roll­ment of kids in school. But the dropout rates in­creased form 33% to 47 % in 2007. Also, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics, the net en­roll­ment of chil­dren from six to ten fell from 97% to 93% in 2002. More­over, the qual­ity of pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion was such that even af­ter five years of study, kids could not read or write their own names. The World Bank pre­dicted that at this rate Bangladesh could not meet the MDG by 2015.

Progress on the Millennium De­vel­op­ment Goal does ap­pear to be mak­ing head­way and pri­mary dropout rates have gone down con­sid­er­ably. The gov­ern­ment of Bangladesh in­tro­duced new method­olo­gies like the pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion stipend pro­gram and re­duced the stu­dent-to-teacher ra­tio to help ac­cel­er­ate the achieve­ment of these goals. Free Bud­getary Al­lo­ca­tion for Girls’ Ed­u­ca­tion, Free Pri­mary Ed­u­ca­tion, big stipend pro­grams at pri­mary level and Food for Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gramme - are all ef­forts of the gov­ern­ment that is do­ing what it can to meet the re­quire­ments of full pri­mary lit­er­acy in the coun­try.

The gov­ern­ment claimed 82.7% en­roll­ment in 2005, while it was 80.9% in 2003, ac­cord­ing to UNICEF. Also, per­cent­age of en­roll­ment of fe­males was com­par­a­tively higher than males: 83 to 84 for girls and 80 to 81 for boys.

Ini­tia­tives like Amader Path­sala have fur­ther bol­stered the gov­ern­ment’s at­tempts to reach the MDG. Schools un­der this pro­gram pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion to des­ti­tute chil­dren ac­cord­ing to their eco­nomic and cul­tural set­tings. Lessons are pre­pared with rel­e­vance to the stu­dents’ own lives and they are en­cour­aged to par­tic­i­pate. In ad­di­tion to var­i­ous tra­di­tional and cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties, the school also pro­vides the kids with a daily lunch box to meet their nu­tri­tional needs.

Al­though the Bangladeshi gov­ern­ment is try­ing hard, the jour­ney is long and up­hill. Poverty is only one face of the is­sue that has kept so many kids out of school. There is also a need for schools to be ac­ces­si­ble, cheap and non­com­mer­cial and they should also cater to marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties of the coun­try. It is hard for chil­dren to study and learn some­thing which has no rel­e­vance to their own lives. If the model of Amader Path­sala schools is in­tro­duced by the gov­ern­ment, their suc­cess level could be much higher.

Con­sid­er­a­tion of so many key is­sues is very dif­fi­cult on a broad scale, but for pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion to be ef­fec­tive, these fac­tors have to be taken into ac­count. The teacher-to-stu­dent ra­tio should be low and they should be ex­pe­ri­enced in han­dling chil­dren’s is­sues.

The schools don’t have to be large and well equipped. They can be set up in small shacks and build­ings as long as there is one in al­most ev­ery vil­lage and there are chil­dren to at­tend it. If the schools are ac­ces­si­ble and blend in with the lo­cal cul­ture, they would be more ef­fec­tive in at­tract­ing more lo­cal chil­dren.

The UNESCO World Mon­i­tor­ing Re­port in 2008 put Bangladesh in the list of 25 coun­tries that are still far from at­tain­ing the MDG goals. These coun­tries also in­clude In­dia, Nepal, Morocco, Mau­ri­ta­nia, and Pak­istan but BD is still far ahead than any of these coun­tries. If the cur­rent rate of progress con­tin­ues, there is no doubt that Bangladesh would meet the Millennium De­vel­op­ment Goal of 100 per­cent pri­mary lit­er­acy rate - per­haps not ex­actly in 2015, but bet­ter late than never! The writer is a free­lancer who writes on de­vel­op­men­tal is­sues of the re­gion.

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